PAC | Nov 7, 2013
Deputy John Deasy: While we are speaking about the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Mr. [Robert] Watt [Secretary General in the Department], I remind the committee that Deputy Robert Dowds and I have been working on the issue of commercial rates. We have raised the issue at this committee on three or four occasions in the past year. It is another important element when it comes to local government.
Taking up what Deputy Simon Harris said about what the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, had offered with regard to the committee investigating this area, there is an acceptance of the arguments we have been making on commercial rates. The Ministers and Secretaries General to whom I spoke in the past couple of days appeared to accept the amendments we would be tabling to the Local Government Bill 2013. We need to take an holistic view of commercial rates when it comes to the two Departments mentioned. The Departments of Finance and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation could also play a role.
There has been a lack of joined-up thinking between Departments on commercial rates and their potential effect on businesses in putting them to the wall. Based on what we have done at this committee, the Departments have reached the point where they recognise that these sentiments deserve attention. If one is going to organise something with the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Watt has been very helpful. Deputy Robert Dowds and I have met him on a couple of occasions and he has been very constructive on the commercial rates issue. When it comes to any kind of initiative regarding the funding of local government and where the funding goes, the issue of rates will be part and parcel of it.
Chairman (John McGuinness): We will write to them first, following which we will see if we need to ask the two Secretaries General to come before us for a discussion. We will include it all in the same correspondence.
There has been a lack of joined-up thinking between Departments on commercial rates and their potential effect on businesses in putting them to the wall.
Deputy John Deasy: To give members an idea of the difficulties that arise, the Department of Finance used to be the umbrella Department for the Valuation Office, but now it is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, as the latter views - correctly I think - the office as an independent agency, it has a difficulty getting involved with it. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is the only Department with a vehicle going through the Oireachtas dealing with commercial rates. For that reason, everything is in segments and there is no overlap or connection between the Departments. The jurisdictions are separate, but the issue deserves an initiative between the Departments, perhaps led by this committee, to deal with it holistically.
Chairman: We will copy the Departments of Finance and Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in our correspondence because they also have a role to play in the issue. We will receive the correspondence first and, if necessary, then speak to the Secretaries General.
Deputy Sean Fleming: I understand there is a valuation Bill on the Dáil Order Paper.
Deputy John Deasy: A Valuation (Amendment) Bill was introduced in the Seanad several months ago to provide for self-assessment. This would be an entirely different system from that which obtains. New valuations are being prepared, but when that Bill is enacted, there will be an entirely different assessment regime for businesses. Nobody has thought about how we deal with one set of people whose businesses were being valued using a new method being brought in. We were told that the people whose businesses were valued using the old method would not be allowed to self-assess under the new method. These are the issues that need to be addressed.
Committee of Public Accounts | Thursday, 27 June 2013
Deputy John Deasy: I raised an issue last week about the Valuation Office. The Chairman offered to consider inviting the office to appear before the committee. Can we make that request as soon as possible?
Chairman (Deputy John McGuinness): Yes, we are doing that. When did the Deputy have in mind for this meeting? I would like to know what kind of pressure we are under.
Deputy John Deasy: There is a major issue among businesses in my constituency with regard to valuations being made by the Valuation Office. It is clear that many will go out of business. This is relevant to the work of this committee and the taxpayer because of the massive amounts of commercial rates being written off and the massive arrears in local authorities, which are going up. There is an association between what the Valuation Office is doing and how much money is effectively not being collected. Issues arise from the general administration of the Valuation Office and how it goes about its business. There is a loss to the taxpayer. We need to examine this because economic times have changed and some say it is not going to get better any time soon. We need to consider the effect the valuations being put on businesses and the ratings involved are having on business. Can we invite the representatives of the Valuation Office on that basis as soon as possible?
Deputy Robert Dowds (Lab): I support that request and would be interested to see the difference in impact in counties in which the new system has come in compared to the old system. I know that will not give a full picture because they were different economic times, but it is important to have a decent system of commercial rates and it is important that businesses can survive.
Chairman: We will ask the Valuation Office to come in at the earliest possible date. Some of those matters might be taken up in a general way today with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
Deputy John Deasy: Deputy Dowds has raised the other big issue in this respect, which is the introduction of the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012. This completely changes the way in which businesses are assessed. We are moving towards a system of self-assessment and the Valuation Office will have views on that and when and whether it should be expedited through the Government. What will it mean to have two separate systems of assessment once that Bill is enacted and how will their administration work, in some cases in two different parts of the country? All of those issues need to be teased out with the Valuation Office.
Chairman: We will set an early date for that meeting.
Selected contributions, 2013 meetings of PAC
As the public spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee is one of the most powerful Oireachtas Committees. It has a key role to play in ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in the way Government agencies allocate, spend and manage their finances and in guaranteeing that the taxpayer receives value for money for every euro spent.